CD Review of H.A.A.R.P. by Muse
Recommended if you like
Radiohead, Queen, Pink Floyd
Label
Warner Bros.
Muse: H.A.A.R.P.

Reviewed by David Medsker

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A
h, the live CD/DVD combo. The sets, by and large, are a scam; much like the “deluxe” editions of albums that were only released for the first time six months earlier, the addition of that DVD gives the labels the opportunity to raise that list price a good ten bones, even though in many instances it devalues the overall set due to a lack of production value. Muse’s H.A.A.R.P., on the other hand, is just the opposite: the UK rock magazine NME voted Muse the best live band of the year, and while the CD portion of the set certainly bears that out, absolutely nothing compares to witnessing it firsthand. The DVD is the real reason to purchase this set.

The band takes the stage – to much pomp, circumstance, and confetti – to “Dance of the Knights,” written for “Romeo & Juliet.” That means, yes, the band pulls out the big guns right away, launching into “Knights of Cydonia,” and while the band delivers a rip-roaring version of the song (trumpet player and everything), half the fun is watching the crowd. They’re pogo-ing their butts off from the very beginning, but when the big post-“No one’s gonna take me alive” riff hits, the place literally explodes. Hell, the crowd maintains that intensity through “Map of the Problematique” and “Butterflies and Hurricanes,” which is akin to moshing at a Cure show.

Muse

The band, mercifully, gives the audience a chance to rest. The problem is that they gave the audience a really, really long time to rest. “Butterflies and Hurricanes” is arguably one of the band’s best songs, but playing it after “Problematique” and before “Invincible” and “Starlight” is just a cruel thing to do to an audience. (The DVD goes even further into the mines of mellow gold, including “Hoodoo,” “A Soldier’s Poem,” Feeling Good,” “Unintended” and “Blackout,” yikes). For as many high-energy songs as there are in Muse’s catalog, it’s shocking to see them go the mellow route for a show that will be documented for time immemorial. Perhaps replace one of those ballads with “City of Delusion” or “Exo-Politics,” perhaps? One other quibble: Bellamy needs to go back to saying “No one’s gonna take me alive” at the ending of “Knights of Cydonia,” instead of his all-too-proper reading of “No one’s going to take me alive.” It’s a battle cry, for God’s sake. Sing it like your life depends on it. Even the video screens behind him say “gonna.”

While we’re speaking of Bellamy, there is just no other way to say it: the man is sickeningly talented. (Peanut, the keyboardist for the Kaiser Chiefs, told us in an interview that he was so in awe of Bellamy’s abilities that “I fucking hate him!”) And if his guitar-playing prowess weren’t enough by itself, he has those custom-made Hugh Manson axes that could launch nuclear weapons if you played them a certain way. He’s all about the distorted harmonics and basically making his guitar beg and plead for its life. When he does decide to give the guitars a break – again, back to the lengthy mellow break – and takes a seat at the piano, he doesn’t just play the piano but gives the crowd a mini-concerto. Indeed, one could argue that Bellamy is a showoff, but if you can sing, play guitar and piano like that, all while jumping up and down like you’re on fire, and have it all sound as good as it does on record, why wouldn’t you?

H.A.A.R.P., much like Green Day’s American Idiot 2005 tour document Bullet in a Bible, is one of those lightning-in-a-bottle moments that captures the band at the height of its powers. This is not to say Muse has peaked, but rather that they were very, very smart to capture this moment in time. A must-have for any fan of the band.

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